Monkey business

As the world goes bananas over Darwin “the Ikea monkey,” this incident calls into question the state of Canada’s exotic animal laws

By Rose Hendrie

On Thursday December 13th, 2012


By now, most people are familiar with the story of Darwin the monkey/clotheshorse that Houdini-ed his way out of his crate and his owner’s car before wandering round an Ikea parking lot in Toronto. While the unusual spectacle of a monkey in a faux-shearling coat grabbed international headlines, The Globe and Mail reminded readers that Darwin was “stylish but illegal.” His owners, Toronto real estate lawyer Yasmin Nakhuda (yes, she is one of our own) and her partner, have been fined $240 for breaking the city’s prohibited-animal bylaw. Alongside the media storm and inevitable memes, this incident has also highlighted the inconsistency in Canada’s municipal and provincial laws that govern the prohibition of exotic animals.

British Columbia is one of the few provinces to have enacted exotic animal legislation. The B.C. exotic pet law came into effect on April 1, 2010, placing strict limitations on owners of exotic animals and prohibiting any future importation of animals such as big cats, poisonous snakes, large reptiles and non-human primates. Other provinces, such as Ontario, place the responsibility of determining which exotic animals can be kept on municipal law. Provincial regulations exist in Quebec that cover the breeding and keeping of exotic animals, but in Montreal — where Nakhuda purchased Darwin — it is up to each borough to regulate which exotic animals it prohibits.

The City of Toronto’s animal bylaw prohibits the usual suspects such as big cats and “non-human primates” — and less obvious ones like guineafowl — but allows snakes up to 3 metres long and lizards up to 2 metres. The bylaw also states that while most marsupials are a no-no, “sugar gliders derived from self-sustaining captive populations” are exempt. But don’t even think about moving with your sugar glider to Ottawa, as both sugar gliders and greater gliders are prohibited under the Respecting Animal Care and Control By-Law.

The conglomeration of exotic animal legislation has lead to suggestions that federal laws should be enacted.

Image: lisegagne via iStockphoto